Professor WEI Chuxiong, Head of the Department of History, gave a talk on “China-US relations in the new era” on April 30, 2021, co-organized by the Department, the History Teaching Support & Research Centre of the Department, and the Hong Kong Public Governance Association, and collaboratively organized by the Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies of the Hong Kong Baptist University.
In this Zoom talk, Professor WEI started by defining “the newness” of the China-US relations in the new era, which did not come from the change of time or American leadership, nor the increasing hostility between the China and US, but the substantial change of the nature of China-US relations from an abnormal and unequal status to a normal and equal type, despite a normal and equal relationship not necessarily meaning a good one.
According to Professor WEI, in the beginning, it was China’s tea sale that led to the American independent revolution which allowed the initiation of direct trade between the two countries. In the past two and a half centuries, however, China and US shared almost nothing in common, either in culture, religion, ideology, values, political concepts and systems or economic systems and practice. Fundamentally, the two countries had no common interests, nor common long-term goals, and the US, with a condescending approach, had always been superior to China. Their relationship was simply built upon the contingent needs for short-term profit of trade, dealing with laborer shortages or a common enemy of Japan or Soviet Union.
Professor WEI said other than that, the US always unequally treated China with Chinese Exclusion Acts, the Treaty of Wangshia, the Open Door policy, the sanctions following the Korean War and the June Fourth Incident. The emergence of the “China Threat” and “Thucydides Trap” theories in the early 21st century foresaw another intensified American hostility toward China, but the “invisible history hand” prevented the US from keeping its superiority over China, first due to the 9/11 incident, then the Financial Crisis in 2008, and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, China was able to keep its rapid development until recently the US Congress announced its “2021 Strategic Competition Act” that takes China seriously as its number one competitor. This does not mean that a war will break out between the US and China, but the US and China will become fierce competitors on the same foot.
Professor WEI said, in the past, China was out of the track of the first industrial revolution of England with coal as energy in the 18th century and the second industrial revolution of Germany and America with petroleum and electricity as energy in 1920s. However, it has caught up the third industrial revolution with nuclear energy and computer science since 1970s and timely joined the fourth industrial revolution with the new energy and AI and life science and technology, for which only the country such as the US and China that possesses a large scale market, huge number of high quality laborers, enough capital and high power of state to support and convert the technology to profitable production. Thus, the US and China have entered a new era of global competition shoulder by shoulder.
Source: May 2021 Issue